Thursday, November 21, 2019

LEICA STORES BESIDES THE LEICA STORES


A few years ago Leica began opening their exclusive Leica stores all over the world.  It is a successful concept that is serving them well.  But as new as this concept might appear, it has been done before.

In 1979, Photo Visuals of Minneapolis was the first camera store ever to sell exclusively Leica equipment.

 
Photo Visuals 1980

In an article about Photo Visuals in July 1981, Corporate Report Magazine wrote:


FOR LEICA LOVERS ONLY

Of course it wasn’t meant to be this way.  All Heinz Richter, 34 and Ernest De Quesada, 28, wanted to do in February of 1979 was to augment their income as commercial photographers by selling a few pieces of Leitz (Leica) equipment on the side.

It didn’t work: sales exploded, and the German and Mexican immigrant partners stopped taking photographs to concentrate on selling Leica equipment instead.  Their former studio on the sixth floor of the Wyman Building in downtown Minneapolis became a Leica-only camera shop, Photo Visuals, that sells new and used equipment to Leica users and collectors in the U.S. and abroad.

Photo Visuals retains its studio ambiance.  The stark white walls, high ceilings, natural wood floors, and huge arched windows overlooking downtown Minneapolis seem a proper setting for the intricate, beautifully crafted cameras, projectors and other accessories.

  Heinz Richter and Ernesto De Quesada in 1981 (photo: Corporate Report

Jim Kuehl, the local Leica representative persuaded them that they should apply for a Leica franchise.  Using a list of former clients, the partners put together a first mailing to about 150 people.

The local region, obviously, would not support such a narrow specialty, so Richter and De Quesada went national and international almost immediately.  Once the Photo visual name was established through regular advertisements in magazines with heavy Leica emphasis, like Leica Fotografie, business began to boom. Roughly 80 percent of Photo Visuals’ sales are made through the mail or by phone.

Buyers of Leica equipment are extremely loyal, and many were delighted to find a camera store selling only that brand.

    
                              Photo Visuals                                     Customer Lounge

The concept apparently had a lot of appeal and soon Alvin’s Photo Supply of Pasadena opened California’s First Exclusively Leica store.  They were followed by The Darkroom “Leica and Leica only” in San Francisco.

The owners of some of the conventional camera stores that also sell Leica feel that Leica is trying to compete with them, that they are cutting into their Leica sales volume.  I am sure that this is the case in some instances, but it doesn’t have to be.  With the huge competition from other companies, to sell Leicas successfully requires a commitment from their dealers.  That includes a representative stock and in depth knowledge of the brand.  Without that, many potential customers will go to places where they can see the equipment, supported by a knowledgeable sales staff, before spending the often substantial amounts of money that Leica equipment demands.

To this day there are independent Leica dealers that sell Leica equipment almost exclusively.  I don’t mean to offer a complete list, but allow me to point to just one of them.


One such store is Tamarkin Camera in Chicago.  Company founder Stan Tamarkin started collecting, buying, and selling Leica cameras in 1971. Since 1984 Leica has been their full-time focus.  In 1996, Stan Tamarkin added a successful rare camera auction business, Tamarkin Rare Camera Auctions, and since then has held auctions in New York, Denver, Tucson, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and New Haven.

From 1995 to 2008 they also had a showroom in New York City, however they closed that location to be closer to their families.  Since the beginning they have been in the New Haven, Connecticut area.  Until recently, when they moved to Chicago after Stan retired and his eldest son, Dan, took over the family business.

 

Dan Tamarkin is Stan’s eldest son.   He has been a Leica enthusiast since before he can remember - fascinated by cameras ever since he was about 3 years old when his dad handed him a camera to play around with. 

Dan Tamarkin

Nowadays, Dan shoots mainly with the Leica M Monochrom (CCD version) camera and an M6 TTL, usually with a 50mm or 35mm lens, or with any lens he can get his hands on. When he’s not answering the phones at Tamarkin Camera, he is probably out shooting or planning the next big adventure.

TAMARKIN CAMERA
300 West Superior Street, Suite 202
Chicago, Illinois 60654
(800) BUY-LEICA | (800) 289-5342

Probably the most unusual Leica dealer in the US was Ken Hansen in New York City.  Unfortunately Ken passed away last year which led to the closure of his store.

With the prices of Leica equipment what they are, it is important for many of us to select a Leica dealer that is no just out to make a profit.  Knowledge and service are two aspects that are extremely important.  Besides the many Leica stores, Leica dealers range from huge camera stores in the bigger cities, especially New York, to, what with any other venue, might be called a mom and pop store.

Many people wish that the small stores, with trustworthy employees from days past, would make a comeback.  But big box stores have all but made an end of that era.  Add to that the ever growing business of mail order and today’s marketplace looks quite different.

The same is true with camera stores and, especially Leica dealers.  Sure, if you know what you need, mail order might save you a few bucks and you might walk away, happy with your purchase.  But what if you need some advice?  Making a mistake with the purchase of Leica equipment can be quite costly.

This is where a dealer you can trust is invaluable.   Ken Hansen was one such dealer.  Not only did he have a stellar reputation of being totally trustworthy, he also had all the advantages of a mom and pop store of years gone by.  Ken Hansen was a tour de force one man operation in a town that made megastores, photographic megastores, a household word.


Ken Hansen

Ken Hansen was the largest Leica dealer in the US without a website or even a store.  He operated strictly with just an e-mail address.  As improbable as that might sound, it worked.  It worked because Ken Hansen had a huge fan base of Leica owners who considered him to be the friendliest and most easy going person in the world.

According to one customer, “Ken Hansen was a legendary Leica dealer, and my go to guy for all things Leica. I had been dealing with Ken for years and never once have I encountered an issue, problem or ANYTHING similar to that.  His customer service was 2nd to none and he usually had everything in stock.”

Another customer stated, “One of the most popular purveyors was Ken Hansen. The man had a reputation for setting the standard.  You were virtually guaranteed to walk away happy.”

And finally, “Ken Hansen did introduce me to my first Leica and every Leica I have acquired since then. Ken said something like, “These are the best lenses in the world, choose your f/stop, set your shutter speed, start shooting, and throw away the owner’s manual. It’s that simple.” What got me excited was that it became about shooting images in their purest form. My mind became free of what I like to call the technical waste. Other cameras have that, and I do not want it.”

Ken Hansen on how he came to New York in 1961 and started a job in a camera store the very same day. Photo by Ed Sherman.
Ken Hansen with Danish writer and photographer Thorsten von Overgaard

Ken Hansen was born in Kiel in the very Northern part of Germany.  1961 he boarded a ship to New York and got a job the same day he arrived. He worked in that camera store until 1973, when he decided to start his own business.  He borrowed $20,000 from his family and began to purchase used equipment from every camera store he could find. 

“I knew what would sell, so that was what I was buying."

He stated at a later time.  “I placed a $350 ad in the New York Times every weekend with 10 items for sale, and by Monday they were sold out.”

Twelve years after that beginning Ken Hansen opened a 600 square-foot office on the 10th floor, across from the Empire State Building on 34th Street.  Next year he expanded to 1,000 square feet on the 11th floor, then a little later, the whole floor of a building on 21st Street.

In an interview with Thorsten von Overgaard Ken said, "It was a large photography store with really competent staff. Everybody was well paid without commissions. The business of photography wasn't an honest one, but we were. That's what made me open my own store and what worked the best about it; we tried to be straight and honest. Everybody came in our store. All the great photographers and everybody else."

Even though Ken did not like to drop names, he did let it slip that the last lens he sold to Helmut Newton was a Leica 50mm Summilux-M f/1.4 lens.

Ken gave up that large store.  He told me that the rent alone was over 30 thousand dollars plus the salaries of his 18 employees.  Instead he started running his business as a home office.  He liked email because "the phone is ringing constantly."  But his expertise and service were just as invaluable then as they were in the past.  

Of course there are quite a number of regular camera stores that also sell Leica.  The Leica Website gives complete information about Leica dealers as well as the location of their own stores worldwide.





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